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Now What? First Steps into IT, 2008 Edition

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When asked for a recommendation on a current certification path for someone wanting to enter IT, Warren Wyrostek initially thought, "That is easy." But when he started to think about the most cost-effective certification, one that had merit, offered earning power, and provided career advancement, he had to pause and revisit the first steps one can take to begin a career in IT, 2008 style.

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Seven years ago, as part of the "Now What?" series I wrote an article discussing the first steps someone should take if they wanted to enter the IT sector. That was seven years ago; think of it—2001. Think of how much we have all changed, and how much IT has changed, and how much IT certification has changed. (Last week I looked at the top 10 problems with IT certification in 2007/2008.)

In the 2001 article, I encouraged readers to jump into IT through several certification paths that were popular, had a great deal of merit, and promised good earning power. Two of the certifications that I focused on were CompTIA’s A+ and Network+ certification. They were and are good starting points for a career in IT.

However, today I do not have the same faith in them to be a gateway into an IT career or provide someone with ample earning power to justify recommending them. I still think everyone should have the skills that A+ and Network+ quantify, but I do not think the certifications are as significant a carrot as they were in 2001.

Why? The whole landscape has changed. I would now expect students coming out of high school/secondary school/technical school to have those same skills without having the certifications. Those skills are almost as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic in this day and age. Those skills are not as much a money-maker or a career path.

I came to this realization a few weeks ago when a friend of mine asked me for a recommendation on a current certification path for someone wanting to enter IT. My initial reaction was, "That is easy." But when I started to think about what the most cost-effective certification would be, one that had merit and earning power and provided career advancement, I had to pause. A+ and Network+ definitely did not fit the bill.

So, now that we are in 2008, what are the first steps one could take to begin a career in IT? If not A+ and Network+, then what?

First Steps into IT

If you are one of the folks looking to break into IT, the first thing you have to do is realize that IT is made up of several sectors or avenues. For example, a Network Engineer is not a PHP programmer, and a MySQL Guru is definitely not a Network Security Specialist. Each sector or avenue has its own certification paths, its own strengths and weaknesses. There are several good entry-level avenues into IT:

  • Networking
  • Database work
  • Web design
  • Programming

Despite what Human Resource folks might think, you will not be able to excel in all these sectors. PICK ONE and OWN IT. Realizing this is a key starting point. If you don’t you will go broke trying to excel in all of them, and/or go nuts.

Once you know which IT avenue appeals to you, you can explore one of the entry-level certification paths available. The path you decide to pursue should be based on couple of factors:

  • Your interest or passion for a topic as well as current skill set. How passionate are you about this sector?
  • Affordability. How much do you have to invest in your new career path? Go slow. Don’t go broke.
  • How much time will it take to get started? When you get certified, how long will it take you to get and begin earning revenue?
  • Earning potential/career advancement. What is the expected life span of this certification/IT avenue?

To summarize:

  • You want to pursue a path that you really love.
  • You want one that will give you the most bang for your buck.
  • You want one that will have some staying power.
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